Sexual Frequency and the Stability of Marital and Cohabiting Unions

Scott T. Yabiku, Arizona State University
Constance T. Gager, Arizona State University

Prior research on marriage shows that lower sexual frequency or lower sexual satisfaction is associated with higher rates of divorce. Scant research, however, has addressed the role of sexual activity in the dissolution of cohabiting unions. We draw upon social exchange theory to develop our hypotheses and propose why sexual frequency is more important in cohabitation: lower costs to ending the union for cohabitors, cohabitors' lack of union-specific emotional and non-emotional capital, and cohabitors' higher demands for sexual activity. In short, sexuality occupies a more prominent role in cohabitation than marriage, and poor sexuality within cohabitation is more likely to lead to dissolution. Using the National Survey of Families and Households, we employ discrete-time event history models to examine the relationships between sexual frequency and union dissolution. Results indicate that low sexual frequency is associated with significantly higher rates of union dissolution in cohabitation than in marriage.

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Presented in Session 135: Union Dissolution